Why you should carry on and NOT stay calm
“I always act like an excited five year-old kid with severe ADD and a waddle at Disneyland.”–Chris Colfer (Kirk on Glee)
Happy weekend, my friends! I know it’s going to be the best one of your life.
I’m down to a couple weeks until my book deadline, so thought I’d post this excerpt from the new book on the importance of gratitude and living in joy.
Even though the British Ministry of Information never had to use the “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters they designed to boost morale during the Second World War (it was the third in a series, designated for use if the Germans invaded), its simple font and symbolic crown has been co-opted in literally thousands of posters, t-shirts, computer memes, ad naseum. I’ve spotted everything from Keep Calm and Smoke Pot or Eat Chocolate or Trust in Pope Francis to Panic Like Fuck and Shit Your Pants.
Turns out, this ubiquitous advice, even if had been posted in shop windows and at bus stops as were the first two in the series, is dead wrong. The better tact for dealing with life is to follow an old cheer my junior high squad used to repeat: “Get excited. Get, get excited.”
I admit this flies in the face of everything we’ve been taught. Stress, we’re told, is debilitating. It hurts your performance, impairs your ability to think. It’s the last thing you need when facing challenges.
Harvard Business School professor Alison Wood Brooks says this belief is nearly unanimous: 91 percent of the thousands she queried said that calming down is the best tact for dealing with high pressure situations.
What she discovered, however, is that it’s the associations we make with stress (calling it bad, fighting to get rid of it, feeling even more stressed that we’re feeling stressed) that are the real culprits.
In study after study, Brooks found that by using a simple switch in wording (using the phrase “I’m excited” as opposed to “I’m anxious”), her test subjects were able to outperform those who called their butterflies and sweaty palms “stress.” Those who said “I’m excited” not only began to feel excited, but they performed better on speeches, on tests, even singing karaoke. As much as 88 percent better.
The physiological state of anxiety and excitement are kissing cousins. Both emotional states come with racing heart, sweaty palms and high levels of the hormone cortisol.
But when you fight this automatic physical response, attempt to beat it into submission by breathing and pretending to “stay calm,” you actually defeat the purpose.
Why not flip the switch and welcome the physiological state, get pumped about the fact you’re doing something that excites the shit out of you?
Going from stress to calm is a big leap. But going from stress to excitement is….all together now….easy.
It lends proof to my theory that focusing on what is wrong (when so damned much is going right) is sheer insanity. If you call yourself stressed, you’re focusing on “what’s wrong.” You’re fighting your physiology.
If you say, “I’m excited,” you’re focusing on opportunities, you’re anticipating a better future.
And as Brooks proved, by focusing deliberately on potential positive outcomes, you’re way more likely to achieve them.
So I ask you, are you anxious or are you excited?
Pam Grout is the author of 17 books including E-Squared: 9 Do-it-Yourself Energy Experiments that Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality and the recently-released sequel, E-Cubed, 9 More Experiments that Prove Mirth, Magic and Merriment is your Full-time Gig.